Parents and Mentors

«This is not a synthale kind of night.»
Bashir in Star Trek DS9 «Explorers»

Today a two related topics brought up in two different events coincided.

I gave a lecture about expertise which — tangentially — addressed the role of parents in children’s musical careers. And I attended a science slam which was under the header of mentorship — esp. for students whose parents did not attend university.

In the science slam (crowded lecture hall), an ad hoc voting revealed that most of the students had at least on parent who attended the university. Yep, that’s a huge thing in Germany. And when the contestants were asked about mentors in their lives, many mentioned their parents. Well, and good (doctoral/Ph.D.) supervisors. As one contestant put it brilliantly:

«A mentor is someone who believes in you more than you do.»

Which is very depressing if you did not have that support — and you have to agree with the assertion that it is impossible to have a career without it.


On the plus side, it gives me a unique perspective and the drive to spread the knowledge I wish I had earlier. Well, adapted for today’s situation.

And yeah, if there is one thing I would like to have told myself when I began with my studies at the university it would likely be: «Your parents did not study at the university. It’s a different world with different rules and standards. Some things are strange to ludicrous — e.g. stipends, which essentially means getting money without having done anything for it. You lack the typical ‹Stallgeruch› (German expression for having the same socioeconomical background/mannerisms/habits, i.e. you fit in the community/are accepted by the herd). So you have to ask ‹stupid› questions, do exceptional work, and seek out people who believe in what you do.»

Whether I would have listened to that advice — that’s another matter.

BTW, don’t get me wrong, I think my parents did the best they could. They just didn’t know, and they didn’t know that they didn’t know. And neither did I.